I have a confession to make, although it probably is not a very earth-shattering one.
I am easily distracted by animal videos.
Yep. They get me every time. It's why I sat and watched and waited for April the Giraffe to give birth last year. It's why I end up pulled into the antics of the dogs in so many of the dog owner groups of which I am a member. And it happened again today.
This morning I was all set to be a productive member of society, or at least maybe just get some work done, and I started my day like I always do, opening Facebook as I enjoyed my second cup of coffee. As I was scrolling through my news feed, I came across a live video from a news station that showed good samaritans sitting next to a beached manatee on a beach in Florida.
Let me preface this by saying that I adore manatees. I love all marine mammals, really, but manatees and dolphins are at the top of my list. I am fortunate that my family lives in Florida near a manatee viewing area and whenever we visit during the winter or early spring, we make sure we make a trip to go and watch for glimpses of these magnificent animals who have come to the area in search of warmer waters. I have stared for hours into the dark murky depths, waiting to see a dark grey nose poke through the water and to hear the sound of the manatee taking a breath before sinking back below the surface.
As I watched the live news feed, a small crowd of people stood waiting for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to arrive with a rescue team, and had put damp t-shirts and towels over the top of the manatee's back and placed umbrellas to block the sun to keep her cool and wet. A few women were bringing buckets of water from the ocean to pour over her from time to time. Two men sat next to the manatee, one of whom had the tell-tale scar from a knee replacement running in a pink line down his tanned leg, something I have seen frequently during my many visits to Florida.
Over the next hour or so I watched as the rescue team arrived. According to the woman who led the rescue, female manatees frequently beach themselves to get away from unwanted male attention and can often safely just wait for the next high tide to take them back out to sea, but if it is an extremely hot or sunny day, the FWC will intervene and help them back to the water. With great care and as much tenderness as they could use to not cause the manatee any pain, they inserted a microchip so that they could identify her if they came across her again, and then led the group through the process of helping her back to the water.
A large group of men and women had volunteered to help carry the manatee on a stretcher made for marine mammal rescue, and my eyes got watery a few times as I watched this group of humans work very carefully to slide large strips of fabric under her, making sure they did not catch her face or her flippers as they slid the material between her body and the sand. The next step was to use those pieces of fabric to roll her over onto one side to slide the stretcher underneath her, and then roll her to the other side to pull the stretcher all the way underneath her body. I watched as the man with the scar on his knee joined the rest of the volunteers as they knelt down beside her, knowing that many people still have pain even after a replacement, yet he was down there on hands and knees, helping her all the same.
It was amazing how patiently she laid there letting people move her body about. Granted, manatees are not exactly known for being aggressive or harmful to humans, but she is still a wild animal and could have easily started to thrash about and potentially injure someone. She seemed to accept the fact that they were helping her.
Once they got her loaded onto the stretcher, they carried her to the water and into an area deep enough for her to swim away on her own. I watched as the person in charge made sure that her face was not dragging in the sand as they trudged to the shoreline, an extra bit of compassion that made my heart happy. They stopped several times to gently lower her to the ground and take a break so as to not injure themselves, since carrying a thousand pound animal is a labor-intensive task no matter how many people you have doing the heavy lifting.
Eventually, they reached water deep enough that she flipped her giant tail fluke and swam away on her own without any encouragement. Her departure was followed by cheers and celebration, and I watched while men (who I assumed were strangers) hugged each other, shook hands, and headed back up to the beach to return to whatever they had been doing before they all came together to help an animal in need. As for myself, here in the Chicago suburbs, I wiped happy tears from my eyes.
I have written about this before, but every single day on social media and on the news on TV, we see humans doing inhumane things. We see abuse and neglect happening both to animals and to fellow humans, day in and day out. It is not easy to go through the world as a compassionate animal lover because we feel our hearts break every single time we see another member of our own species exhibiting cruelty and evil. But then there are days like this that restore our faith, that remind us of the fact that for all of the horrible things that we see, there are just as many people helping and nurturing and saving our animals and fellow humans.
Literally, right after clicking off of the manatee video, I came across a friend's status of how she had spent part of her morning. She had shared a short clip of a bird that was caught in the ribbon of a balloon that had been tied to a mailbox, probably by homeowners who were identifying their guests that they were having a party of some sort, since that seems to be the main reason a balloon would be tied to a mailbox. The bird was struggling to get free from the ribbon but was too tangled to free himself.
My friend's status said, "Coming to work this a.m., saw this. Of course, I turned around & had to save the lil dude. He was wrapped around balloon string on a mailbox. Had to chew string to break it.😂 Dudes mate was trying to attack me the whole time. Finally gnawed thru string & could hold lil dude to unravel him & he was biting me the whole time but he is now free & flew off into the sunrise with his mate. Happy Friday peeps."
Of course, I met this particular friend because of a shared love of dogs, so I am not at all surprised that she is the type of compassionate human who would use her own teeth to chew through a ribbon while being attacked and pecked by a different bird, to free an innocent Robin and save his life, but I am nonetheless still extremely proud to call her a friend. How many people might not have even noticed this bird, or driven past without stopping? How many people might have written it off as "just a bird" instead of caring about saving an individual life regardless of the species?
Author H. Jackson Brown Jr. is quoted as saying, "Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking." No one was looking when the first person originally discovered the beached manatee before the TV crews showed up, and nobody was looking when my friend saved a single bird from dying this morning. I am so thankful that we have people with character like this to help the animals that we are on earth to protect. It helps us get through the day with joy and a happy heart, and it helps the animals live to see another day of their very precious lives.
Want to help in the efforts to help Florida manatees? Here are some resources
The Manatee Store (I saw a dog collar and leash in here!) : https://www.shopsavethemanatee.org/
Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission: http://myfwc.com/get-involved/support-fwc/